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What's All This Then?

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The Devil’s Candy
by Julie Salamon

Field-Tested by Nathan Rabin

in Los Angeles, California

I don't want to suggest that Los Angeles is perhaps not the most literate city in the world, but let's just say that the Los Angeles Times is the only major newspaper that reviews exclusively pop-up and coloring books. Carrying a book around in L.A. is a good way to invite stares of disbelief from rubberneckers liable to view you as a strange emissary from a more literate planet, where people read books for pleasure, rather than obligation, or to ascertain their viability as source material for future blockbusters.

When I began flying to L.A. every week to be a regular on a poorly-rated, mildly-disreputable, basic-cable, movie-review panel show called “Movie Club with John Ridley” (don't worry, no one else has heard of it either) I brought a different book about a famous Hollywood disaster each time out. By immersing myself in historic show-business calamities, I hoped to prepare myself for the bitter, inevitable, no doubt premature end of my own show business career. I came to view these books as potent talismans to ward off the bad juju of the Pagan Gods of Hollywood.

Hollywood is where people go to both lose and find themselves. In that respect it's like college for subliterates. I didn't want to lose my book-learning Midwestern soul so I clung desperately to wonderfully cynical books like The Devil's Candy, Julie Salamon's deliciously dishy account of the making and unmaking of Bonfire of the Vanities. I read the book as I strolled down Ventura Boulevard. I read the book at LAX. I read the book in the coffee shop of The Sportsmen's Lodge, beneath a sad little spectacle called “Jim Roberts' Roundup of Western Stars,” a makeshift Cowboy Hall Of Fame and a showcase for the work of Katie West, a self-described “Celebrity Artist and Patriot,” but not necessarily in that order.

Salamon's book is part of a peculiar literary sub-genre I like to call “anatomies of a failure,” literary autopsies of notorious flops that include such notable tomes as Steven Bach's The Final Cut (about Heaven's Gate), and Lillian Ross' Picture (about The Red Badge Of Courage). These books tend to follow the same irresistible arc. They begin with infinite promise and visceral excitement as a community of artists strives to create timeless art, only to be hamstrung by bad ideas, corporate meddling, or their own poisonous hubris and overbearing ambition. In Picture, at least there's a strange majesty to failure, an unexpected grace in belly flopping with the whole world watching. Like Salamon, I glory in failures and fiascoes. Ironically, by the time “Movie Club with John Ridley” reached its grim, bitter conclusion I felt vastly overqualified to contribute my very own entry to the “anatomy of a failure” sub-genre.

Nathan Rabin is the head writer of The AV Club, the entertainment section of the award-winning satirical newspaper The Onion. He is the co-author of the 2002 A.V Club interview collection Tenacity of the Cockroach and an upcoming Inventory book to be published by Scribner. Scribner will also be publishing his memoir, The Big Rewind: A Pop Culture Memoir, in 2009. He lives in Chicago with his two cats and still feels weird writing about himself in third person.

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